Bronx Leg Bombing
Top IFBB 212-class contender Marco Rivera doesn’t waste a moment in this hardcore, fiber-splitting leg routine.
Marco Rivera shakes off the flurry. Like he has a thousand times in the past, he keeps his guard up as his opponent’s gloves deflect off his forearms. He absorbs a shot to his biceps, followed by a jab slipping over the top of his right hand, glancing off his ear. A bolt of lightning crosses his pupils, but for only a moment, and clarity quickly returns.
He continues to shuffle his 146-pound frame around the ring, his feet carving the same circle as countless others have before him. The canvas beneath the warriors’ feet is cracked and worn, stained with sweat and blood of battles past. The crowd is a hazy blur, faded into the distance. Shouts of encouragement spill from opposite corners of the ring, but none penetrate the zone Marco finds himself in.
Just one problem — before he knows it, four rounds are in the books as the final bell clangs. While the referee raises his opponent’s hand in triumph, Marco silently shakes his head, dropping his eyes to the floor. “What just happened? I could’ve won that fight,” he thinks to himself. “I let it slip away. I just didn’t throw enough punches.”
It was a mistake he vowed to never make again.
Marco’s professional boxing career would span just two fights, a decision loss followed by a decision win. He would walk away from the sport after seven long years of faithful training, content to fade into the endless, empty bustle of the New York City he had known since childhood.
“I worked a lot of random jobs back then,” Marco says, shaking his head at the memory. “This is how confused I was in my 20s — I temped and I was content with that. I actually loved the fact that when I woke up I had no idea what I’d be doing that day.”
Marco grew up in the hardscrabble Bronx. He is one of six children; his father was an X-ray technician and his mother a nurse at the same hospital when they met, married and started a family. When Marco reached high school age, the family bounced around, first to Chicago, then to Puerto Rico, and finally back to New York. It was in the Windy City that he first discovered weight training.
“There’s a street that divided the east and west side of my neighborhood,” he says. “Each side had different gangs. The problem for me was I lived on the east side, but went to high school on the west side. Now, keep in mind, I had just moved from New York, so I was clueless about colors and all the other stuff. I had friends on both sides. I always feared that something would happen — that one side would confuse it when they saw me with friends from the other side, and I’d get jumped.”
To be ready, he craved strength. And it’s what led him to a small, hardcore club that he passed on his way to and from school. “The place was full of rusted-out equipment, and it had the dog-eared magazines and the posters of bodybuilders on the walls,” he recalls. “I peeked my head in there so much that eventually the owner let me come in. He told me I could train if I would help clean up. From there? Forget about it, it just took off.”
At that point, baseball was Marco’s first love. He never played for his school’s team, but he was a Gold Glove-caliber shortstop on every club and local team he played on, from New York to Chicago to Puerto Rico and back to New York. “I was a natural from the time I was a little kid,” he says. “I could catch the ball from the very beginning like I had been playing for years, and man, I could hit.”
As Marco says this, he’s taking leave of an upright bike, which he has ridden for 15 minutes, dialing up the resistance and focusing on the muscle contractions in his thighs and glutes with every revolution. We’re in Star Fitness on Commerce Avenue in the Bronx. Don’t let the bland moniker fool you: Look around, and you quickly realize this ain’t your typical weekend-warrior health club. It smells faintly of Pro Tan, chalk and perspiration, with a who’s who of local NPC and IFBB talent meticulously at work.